On the way to Merzouga and the gates of the Sahara desert… Before living your dream of escape and wide-open spaces, it is important to prepare for your trip well in the Drâa-Tafilalet region. A small Moroccan village at the gates of the desert, Merzouga is one of the essential stops when visiting Morocco. Known for its famous dunes, Erg Chebbi, it reveals many other riches. To organize your stay and make the most of it, here is some useful information for visiting Merzouga.
The geography of Merzouga
Merzouga is a village in the southeast of Morocco, located at the gates of the Sahara desert, near the Algerian border, 200 km from Tinghir and 350 km from Ouarzazate. Marrakech, the capital, is 560 km away, and Fez is 460 km away. The village of Merzouga is above all known for its famous dunes.
It is indeed located at the gates of Erg de Chebbi, which has breathtaking dunes that are among the most spectacular in the Sahara, the highest fixed dunes in Morocco. It constitutes the Erg of Chegaga (or Chigaga), the only ergs of Morocco (an erg is a desert of dunes in opposition to the reg, a desert of stones and pebbles). Located about fifty kilometers from the Algerian border, Merzouga is one of the last cities in Morocco before entering the Sahara. Due to its situation and its exceptional location at the gates of the desert, this charming little town is often included as a stopover in circuits passing through Ouarzazate and Tinghir.
Merzouga has located 42 km from Rissani, the nearest town, and about 60 km from Erfoud, the capital of Tafilalet, north of Rissani, the cradle of the Alaouite dynasty.
Climate and weather
Merzouga is a desert region with an arid, hot, and dry climate. In summer, average temperatures can reach 45 degrees during the day and 25 degrees in winter, it is specified that they can approach zero degrees at night, even in summer. Remember to put a warm garment in your suitcase.
The rare precipitation is generally quite intense and stormy. Merzouga, therefore, experiences very little bad weather and enjoys a constantly clear sky during the day, but also at night, ideal for contemplating the stars.
How to get to Merzouga?
Merzouga is not served directly by any plane or train.
To get to Merzouga, it is customary to leave Marrakech and make a stopover in Ouarzazate or Tinghir. It takes a good 7-hour drive. The easiest way is to rent a car or take a taxi. There are buses from all major Moroccan cities to Rissani, Erfoud, or Merzouga, but it takes much longer. Then, to get from the bus station to Merzouga, you can either rent a car or take a taxi.
Some hotels, such as the Africa hostel, offer to pick you up in the city of your choice. Access to Merzouga is not difficult. A paved road will take you to the gates of the desert, already offering you a splendid spectacle. And the trip is worth it! When you approach and see the desert looming on the horizon with its ocher-colored dunes, it is simply splendid.
Plane and train to get closer
The nearest airport to Merzouga is Errachidia, which is located about 100 km away. It is also possible to reach Merzouga from other airports, that of Marrakech is 562 km, that of Fes Saïss 326 km, and that of Ouarzazate 276 km.
As far as train travel is concerned, the “Grandes Lignes” trains serve stations located more to the west of the Atlas. Suffice to say that to get to Merzouga, you will have to complete the route by road. To consult the “Grandes Lignes”, go to the ONCF website: http://www.oncf.ma/OffreDeTransport/Pages/TrainsGrandesLignes.aspx.
From these airports, take a bus to Rissani. Departures are daily and take place at night and day (for example departure by bus from Fes at 7 p.m. for arrival at 7 a.m. or departure from Marrakech at 8 a.m. for arrival at 8 p.m. in Rissani ). The bus fare is around 18 euros from Marrakech.
By rental car or taxi
Also consider the solution of car rental, which can be practical and give you time to discover the treasures that are on the way. This is particularly true on the road between Marrakech and Merzouga, called the road of 1000 kasbahs. Discover through Nadia and Mike's road trip on Lovetrotters.net, all the wonders to discover on this route.
From Rissani, you can easily reach Merzouga, by taking a taxi or by rental car, the road is paved (35km). Some hotels even have shuttles that provide the connection. However, it is better to opt for a taxi. They are collective (up to 6 customers) and represent the cheapest solution (13 euros). You can decide to pay for the other places if you don't want to share.
Where to sleep in Merzouga?
Merzouga is the base for people who want to explore Erg Chebbi and its incredible dunes. Located at the gates of the desert, this small town fascinates by its surrounding landscape. And to enjoy this magnificent landscape, what could be better than sleeping at the foot of the dunes?
The choice of hotels and accommodation is not lacking in Merzouga, the sometimes anarchic construction of hotels can also be somewhat confusing.
Prices vary depending on your requirements. You will find a number of hotels in the very heart of Merzouga. Deals start at around €34 a night. Accommodation in a bed and breakfast or youth hostel is also possible, from around €20 per night for bed and breakfasts and for hostels, from €15 per night.
Finally, you can decide to descend directly near the dunes, opting for accommodation in a bivouac (tent), from €25 per night, the most luxurious tents can exceed €100 per night.
This is what we offer at the Africa hostel, in addition to the splendid setting available to you, it is a real invitation to a change of scenery. Indeed, with its traditional Moroccan style, the hostel welcomes you in simple and comfortable rooms. Staying at the Africa hostel means living an authentic experience that allows you to discover Moroccan culture in greater depth. You will also enjoy tasting traditional Moroccan cuisine in a charming setting and a friendly atmosphere.
And for those who wish to live an experience closer to the desert, you can pitch your tent just at the foot of the dunes. We provide you with a camping area. You even have the possibility of sleeping under a khaïma: the traditional tent of the nomadic peoples of the Sahara. Finally, if you want to spend a starry night in the middle of the desert, the Africa hostel offers camel and bivouac excursions.
Where to eat in Merzouga?
Most hotels include breakfast in the price of their room (remember to check this point when making your reservation). Some also offer an offer including breakfast and dinner, but in some cases, the content of dinner may seem light.
The choice of restaurants is also quite wide and prices start from 3-5 euros for a meal, couscous and tajines are dishes of Berber origin, specialties of southern Morocco.
You will also find in the heart of the village of Merzouga several cafes where you can quench your thirst at any time (mint tea, sodas, or other cold drinks).
What to do in Merzouga?
Climb the big dune
If you go to Merzouga of course, it is for the dunes of Erg Chebbi. Some are among the highest in the Sahara. Thus, one cannot go to Merzouga without going to climb the big dune. With a height of 160 meters, its ascent is done on foot and is not easy but the effort is worth it. Arrived at the top, it is a breathtaking spectacle that awaits you. You have a striking view of Erg Chebbi which stretches for about twenty kilometers as well as the village of Merzouga, nestled at the foot of the dune, and Lake Dayet Srji just opposite.
It is advisable to climb the great dune of Merzouga in the late afternoon for several reasons, the main one being that the heat is more bearable. But also, the sun being less intense, the light is ideal to appreciate all the beauty of the dunes which are colored orange-yellow. You will be able to take sumptuous shots. And finally, you will have the opportunity to witness a magical moment: a sunset in the Sahara!
The other ideal time to properly admire the magical place is at dawn. The sunrise in Merzouga has no equal and it is difficult to know which is finally the most beautiful between the sunrise and the sunset in the heart of the dunes of the Sahara.
Make a bivouac in the desert
Camping in the desert is an unusual and authentic experience. You can experience the time of an excursion and the way of life of the nomadic peoples of the Sahara. This unique experience offers you the magic of a sunrise and sunset in the desert.
On the back of a camel, you set off to explore the desert, and at nightfall, you sleep under a khaïma, the authentic Berber tent. Made of dromedary wool, it is supported by a wooden structure. On the ground, a thick layer of carpet offers you comfort and simplicity for this night in the desert. As tradition dictates, a Moroccan tagine will be served for the meal. Making a bivouac is therefore really diving into the heart of the way of life of nomadic people. And at dawn, the magic of the sunrise over the desert awaits you.
Discover Lake Dayet Srij
Not far from Merzouga, a few kilometers away, you can discover Lake Dayet Srij which you can see when you climb the big dune. It offers a superb panorama of the dunes as well as exceptional biodiversity. You will be charmed by the serenity that emanates from this magical place. What a striking spectacle to be able to observe pink flamingos or white storks moving gracefully on the blue of the lake with the magnificent dunes of Merzouga in the background. The beauty of this unusual landscape is striking. A lake at the foot of the desert is something you will rarely see.
The different color tones intertwine to offer you superb shots. What's more, nature lovers will be delighted. Depending on the era, you can come across many species of birds such as the majestic Barbary falcon. And to appreciate the beauty of this place, even more, we advise you to go there at the end of the day to watch a breathtaking sunset.
Take a sand baths
Here is an activity that you would probably not have thought of and which is quite unusual: a sand bath in the desert! And if one could obviously think that it is a simple amusement, it is very serious on the contrary. It is actually aromatherapy, an ancestral practice with many virtues. Many Moroccans, in particular, come to practice this treatment to relieve their rheumatism, back pain, or even dermatological disorders. This natural treatment is excellent for eliminating toxins or improving blood circulation.
Originally from North African countries, this natural therapy is still little known in Europe. In Morocco, it is practiced in the dunes of the Sahara from June to September when the sand has a temperature of around 45°C. To benefit from all the benefits of this treatment, simply lie down in a hole dug in the sand. The person is then completely covered in sand and will remain like this for about ten minutes.
This treatment is carried out under medical supervision and a visit to the Merzouga doctor is essential before the session in order to rule out any possible contraindications. To prolong the benefits of this therapy, you can, if you wish, perform other treatments or massages after the session.
What to visit around Merzouga?
Dromedaries lake Merzouga
If the dunes of Merzouga alone are worth the detour, the surroundings of this charming little town are also full of sites of interest. Thus, just a few kilometers away, you can discover Khamlia and its inhabitants: the Gnawa people. Descendants of slaves from Black Africa, they are often from the Sahel and bear witness to the traces left by the trans-Saharan trade. It is a very interesting visit to discover the culture of this person who will welcome you in a friendly atmosphere to the sound of Saharan music.
Not far from Merzouga, is also the city of Rissani, the cradle of the Alaouite dynasty famous for its souk, its ancient ksours, and its mausoleum. A visit to Rissani immerses you in the heart of Saharan culture. The Moulay Ali Cherif Mausoleum is one of the most beautiful monuments in the city. This is the burial chamber of the father of Moulay Er-Rachid who founded the Alaouite dynasty. Built in 1666 by Moulay Al Cherif, it was largely destroyed in 1965 following a zig flood and then restored several times. You will have access to its interior courtyard as well as its gardens which are of great beauty.
Finally, you will also have the opportunity to discover the old abandoned mines in the Hamada desert, on a rocky plateau. A large part of these mines was abandoned. At present, only a few Moroccan miners work there to extract lead, quartz, and kohl. The volcanic landscape that appears in front of you seems almost unreal. It is an interesting place to explore.
Merzouga is undoubtedly a city not to be missed during a stay in Morocco. Nestled at the gateway to the Sahara, it is the starting point for exploration in the desert and invites you on a journey to the heart of Saharan culture.